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In the middle of an interview where Taylor Coleman spends much of it getting jabs in at Tanner Coleman, his eyes light up.

"Lewis Coleman!"

The Colemans' grandfather is beloved by both and an advocate for baseball.

Tanner Coleman is emphatic.

"I want this headline -- Lewis is a big supporter of the school."

It's a rare moment for the two Colemans, one where they actually agree on something. The Okaw Valley baseball pair spend much of a postgame presser arguing about who struck out who in the backyard and who could whoop who in ping pong.

"Well, every weekend of the summer, I beat Taylor in wiffle ball," Tanner shoehorned into an answer.

"That is false," Taylor fired back

Taylor, the senior, and Tanner, the junior, are not brothers but they might as well be the way they interact. They're cousins, and grew up playing baseball together. After Tanner moved from Shelbyville in middle school, they've been able to play on the same high school team for the past three seasons.

"It's definitely different," Tanner said. "Playing for a summer ball team, there's just not that clique that you have here. Me and Garrett (Fritz) have been on summer teams before, but it's just not the same having somebody you've grown up with your entire life playing second base when you're at short."

"You're going to make me cry," Taylor added.

It's good for Okaw Valley coach Andrew Hagerman that he has the Colemans together. With two openings on the pitching staff, those two figure to be the second and third arms behind Fritz. And when Fritz is pitching, they hold down two key defensive positions -- Tanner is behind the plate and Taylor is manning shortstop.

So while Fritz may steal the attention with his jaw-dropping swing, the Colemans' success will be essential to another Okaw Valley postseason run.

Hagerman sees the drive needed in both of them.

"They're hilarious. They're both hard-nosed baseball players, they both expect a lot out of themselves, sometimes too much," he said. "They both have a strong desire to win and they're both fun to coach.

"They blame it on their grandpa, but they've got quick tempers. Both of them do, and usually it's at each other more than anything. But they're good kids, good baseball players. They're just intense."

But as similar as they are, both bring different talents to the Timberwolves. Tanner brings a big bat, one that makes sure opponents can't pitch around Fritz without any reprecussions. He hit .437 as a sophomore.

Taylor added some innings last year, but his biggest strength might come in the field.

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"We do this drill where we have teams on each side of the field, and the first to five errors runs," Tanner said. "Taylor's always the first one picked and hardly ever makes an error. And it's been like that since freshman year.

"I think that's where he gives us value on the team -- and he can play so many positions, too."

Hagerman sees some difference with their personalities as well.

"Taylor's quieter. Tanner's got a comment for everything," he said.

But both give Okaw Valley leadership. Now starting on varsity for several seasons, they know what to expect.

In the season opener, Fritz hit a rough patch on the mound and was visibly upset with himself. Tanner Coleman jumped out from behind home plate, put his arm around the pitcher and shared a few words of encouragement.

Fritz said Taylor has the same qualities.

"He's like another coach," Fritz said.

For all of the attributes the two have, the pitching may end up being the most valuable. With the new pitch count rules and two starting spots in the rotation open after last year, both spent plenty of time working on their craft.

"You get in there and work on it," Taylor said. "It'll all fall into place if you work on it. Work on different pitches, precision, getting stronger, more focus on it."

"I think it opened our eyes that that's going to be us next year," Tanner added. "Not only that, but some of the younger kids, or kids that are my age that haven't pitched much varsity -- I think it opened up their eyes, too. Because we're pretty deep in pitching right now.

"I think everyone wanted to step up and be the Dylan and Drew, or even the Peyton and Devon from two years ago."

So far, the two have taken a step toward filling that void. Taylor's thrown 6 1/3 innings with no earned runs, eight hits and eight strikeouts. Tanner picked up the win against St. Elmo/Brownstown, throwing four innings, allowing two earned runs.

The cousins will be a key part to Okaw Valley's success, and the question of whether they'll push each other -- on the mound or at the plate -- should be answered quickly.

There's a high enough intensity level just between the two of who's better at table tennis.

"Yeah, I don't want to brag too much," Tanner nonchalantly said about being asked about his recent winning streak.

Taylor was quick to make the correction.

"I guarantee if we played right now, I'd beat him by like 10."

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adow@herald-review.com|(217) 421-6978

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